From the moment his father pushed him out of the front door of the burning and collapsing wreckage of their house, life took on some kind of surreal quality for Alfred. Time seemed to rush past, and yet it seemed to stand still all at once. The weeks that had passed since the earthquake that had shattered his home and the community of the pond were a blur of pain floating in a never-ending sea of anguish.
The pain he felt for the loss of his beloved father and mother was like a band constricting tightly around his chest. He could still smell the charred ashes from the embers that were all that remained of his house, and he could smell the acrid scent of the burnt corpses every time he took breath. Even now, his mind vividly returned to the memories of identifying his parents’ bodies in the makeshift morgue that was the final home to many of the fallen. It was hard to believe that his still-developing teenage body could harbour so many tears – yet they had flowed unabated.
He knew he had to leave this agony behind him. So he flew westward with the sacred Book of Mysteries tucked firmly in the folds of his cloak. As he flew, he could still hear the last screams of his father running back into the burning house – it was a continuing nightmare.
Despite his long anguish, the Book of Mysteries had been a constant source of succour to his damaged spirit in this terrible time. The words of the legendary manuscript proved time and again to be an elixir for his pain. Without the book’s wisdoms he was certain that he would have flown into an abyss, never again to return.
There was no one else! No family, no friends that he could find, and certainly no semblance of a community of ducks from whom he could draw support. He was alone – a teenager in a frighteningly disturbed world.
After the devastation of the earthquake, he had flown off, not really knowing why, only knowing that some irresistible and compelling force was telling him to do so. But to where and to what, he had no idea. His nose continued to point westward, but he was cold and tired, and his hunger burned a hole in his stomach. He had not eaten for many days. The meagre fare that he had packed to sustain himself was a mere semblance of the rich offerings he was used to devouring. The meals his mother had put on the table were now but a faint memory. Yet, despite his pangs of hunger, he managed to raise his eyes to the horizon. As he did so, he picked up a strong scent of a storm heading his way. Soon, he saw cumulonimbus clouds assembling menacingly on the horizon.
His better instincts told him to find shelter – and quickly, before disaster turned into catastrophe. He banked to the left after catching a glimpse of a patch of trees that looked as if they might provide some semblance of cover. Maybe there would be a pond or a water hole from which he could forage a meal. He flew down to take a look.
Alfred managed to scavenge a few meagre morsels that did little to lift his feeling of hunger, although they were better than nothing. He also assembled a rudimentary shelter from the wind and rain that were gathering apace. The shelter and food made his brief sojourn in this desolate backwater a respite from complete disaster, but it was still an uncomfortable situation.
He scrunched his body into a foetal position, arranging some of the leaves and twigs to create a semblance of warmth for his chilled body. He closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep – but alas, sleep did not come. There were only images of his mother and father, flashes of the burning roof of his house collapsing around him, and the ever-present smell of ashes still fresh in his nostrils.
He wasn’t sure whether he was awake or dreaming, for he seemed to exist in some nether-zone where he was cognisant of his thoughts but aware that he was not fully awake. He could hear his father calling his name and he could see his mother’s face as she lay dead in the morgue. He had only one answer as to relief from these excruciating images … he began to cry.
Once again, his tears ran unabated from a well that seemed bottomless. His heaving and dishevelled body was shaking with fever, and his breath came between anguished sobs. Cramping pains gripped his stomach, and his limbs felt leaden and atrophied, as if they no longer obeyed his command to move as directed. The chilling wind and driving rain managed to find their way through his meagre defences. The dark spectre of the trees and the malevolence of their shadows in the moonlight only compounded his feelings of dread; in addition to that, the crash of falling branches and twigs made the night air full of exaggerated peril.
The veil of darkness continued for goodness knows how many hours, and each separate moment seemed to be as deep as or deeper than the last. Yet, all of a sudden, some-thing seemed to shift. It was like the lifting of a burden or the release of a pressure valve … out of the blue he felt lighter, as if his burdens were no longer the ordeal that they had first seemed to be. It was hard to explain, really. Maybe the best way to describe it was to say it was as if someone (or something) had taken away the burden of his negative thoughts – had released his thoughts from the bonds of enslavement to the negative.
Then, in a split second, he had an inspiration. He had to get the Book of Mysteries out … he had to write something. He had to start writing “his story”. Now, finally, the significance of his recent experience at the gravesite of his great-great-grandfather, when he had placed the sacred symbol in the Book of Mysteries, was clear to him. The words had been plain and clear. They had said, “This is your story now.”
He took a pen and began to write in verse. This is what he wrote:
I’m here without you, but you are still here
in my dreams.
I’m lost and alone and my dreams are as nightmares.
You didn’t tell me life would be so hard;
I didn’t sign up for this life, and it now seems totally over-rated.
Anyway, why pick on me?
I don’t deserve any of this.
I haven’t hurt anyone, accumulated any karma,
or defamed the sacred.
Why me? Go and pick on somebody else.
You were my parents. It was your job to protect me,
and now you leave me alone;
I love you but I hate you at the same time.
Why can’t things be just the way they were?
It might just be simpler to leave this life and join you, given that you’ve left me here alone.
I can’t look at life the same; how can I?
The last weeks have been like a thousand lifetimes
of pain and injustice,
And the miles have just been passing under the flap
of wings, without purpose or pleasure.
If there is a God, can you come and save me from this mire?
When all is said and done, I’ve only got memories to drive me onward,
But I don’t know what for or where I’m going.
How can this be fair? I’m still only a kid.
Who am I writing to, anyway?
If you were some kind of God,
you’d not place an innocent in such a position.
I love you, my Mum and Dad; I always did.
You were my life and all that I held sacred.
Why can’t you be with me now?
Reach beyond the veil to take away my pain.
It was thus before – can it not be again?
The storm rages all around me; yet I hear a deafening silence to my questions.
Why do you not answer me? Can you not hear the cries of your son?
Yet, I remember the one of the things you taught me … Yes. I will go on.
I will persist and I will never give up.
Alfred closed the sacred book and tucked it under the folds of his cloak. Then, with a sigh of frustration oddly mixed with determination, he flew off with the rays of the early morning sun casting a long shadow in front of his gaze.